If you recall noticing an in-love couple get kicked out of City Hall just over a year ago, chances are it was Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez.
“I proposed at City Hall because it was the first place I ever saw her,” says Gilford, 30, who met his actor wife while filming a TV movie in Chicago — a romantic meeting point for the couple, who both hail from here (Gilford is from Evanston, Sanchez grew up in Carol Stream).
“But after I proposed, we were hugging each other, telling each other ‘I love you,’ and the security guard came over and said, ‘I don’t know what you guys are doing, but you can’t do it here. Take it somewhere else.’ ” Despite the rocky start to their engagement, the wedding went off without a hitch: The couple tied the knot on Dec. 29 in Northern California, and after a two-week honeymoon in Asia and 36 hours at their home in Los Angeles, they’re currently residing in Miami, where Sanchez is filming the A&E series, “The Glades.”
It was a fitting end to a whirlwind year for Gilford: He starred in two indie dramas, “Crazy Kind of Love” with Virginia Madsen and “In Our Nature” with John Slattery, had a leading role on the Fox show “The Mob Doctor” (which ended in December) and this month, he’ll appear in his first big-budget movie, “The Last Stand,” alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and Johnny Knoxville. “I got to be a bit goofier, so that was fun,” he says of his role as a small-town deputy. While he’s always chosen his projects with care, opting to take on work that inspires him, there’s another layer to his decision-making process now that he’s a husband.
“When I first started working and I would meet actors who had relationships that worked, every single one of them said to impose a two-week limit. Don’t go two weeks without seeing each other,” says Gilford. “So when it comes to jobs, you have to weigh it and ask, ‘Is it worth being apart?’ ”
It’s a philosophy that rings especially true for Gilford, whose various roles have taken him to Portland, Ore., Philadelphia, Miami, Hawaii and most recently home to Chicago, where he filmed “The Mob Doctor.” But it was the four and a half years he spent in Austin, playing sensitive quarterback Matt Saracen on the critically-acclaimed NBC series “Friday Night Lights,” that thrust Gilford into the spotlight. “It was the best job ever,” says Gilford. “It’s rare on big network TV to do something so good. Everybody got along and was respectful. And since we were removed from L.A., it wasn’t like people were rushing off to events, or caught at a club getting drunk. It kept us all normal.”
“Normal” is an apt description for Gilford’s upbringing. He grew up in Evanston, attending Evanston Township High School and Northwestern University. After securing a manager and agent, thanks to a Northwestern senior showcase, he made the move to New York City and soon scored his first professional gig: a role on “Law & Order: SVU.” Since then, Gilford has appeared in a wide range of projects, from television shows to independent films. When it comes to finding the right part, Gilford tries to pick good projects and avoid falling into the good-guy trap. “Since ‘Friday Night Lights,’ people sometimes think of me as the ‘nice guy,’ ” he says.
“The nice guy is fun, but I want to do something else. But if it’s an amazing movie with this director or this actor signed on, I’ll play whatever part it is.”
Despite the allure of Hollywood, Gilford remains a down-to-earth Chicagoan. He travels home often to visit his parents, who still live in the house where he grew up. When he’s in town, he runs along the lake and takes in the city’s native fare, including deep dish pizza from Carmen’s in Rogers Park or The Art of Pizza. His Chicago allegiance is most obvious on the back of his calf, however, where he boasts a tattoo that says “Pip 33.” “When I was 13, my buddy and I tattooed each other,” he laughs. (He and Sanchez also have a dog named Pippen.) When in town, Gilford and Sanchez also hit up their favorite restaurant, Girl & the Goat.
“When I was filming ‘The Mob Doctor,’ I lived down the street and we ended up becoming friends with the servers,” he says. “So it was like, ‘What should we get? Let’s just go to Girl & the Goat.’ It was so good, but not the most economical. Thank god the show ended because we were going to go broke.”
“It was so amazing,” says Gilford of his Dec. 29 nuptials to Kiele Sanchez, an actor who has appeared in “Lost” and the movie “A Perfect Getaway.” “We did it on this organic farm in Northern California with only 75 people, and we didn’t invite anyone out of obligation. It was just close family and close friends. Ultimately it made it so you’re not spending half of your night talking to people you barely know.”
“The wedding was great, but planning it was a difficult experience. Because we were both very active in it, we learned a lot about how we work together.” says Gilford. “It’s so cool that you’re learning all of these things while planning the wedding, which is the thing that’s making you a unit that is going to have to work together forever.”
The night before
“I think the reason they don’t want brides to see the groom the night before the wedding, and vice versa, is so you don’t get in a fight. I mean, it’s all super stressful and you’re at the rehearsal dinner and everyone is drinking — it’s a powder keg for a fight. Then when you don’t see each other, it’s like ‘I miss you! I love you! I can’t wait to see you!’ You’re stoked.”
Story by Molly Each